A placard at Sachin’s inning against England in 2011 ODI world cup read: “Commit your crimes when Sachin is batting. They will go unnoticed because even the Lord is watching.”
The above quote sums up what Sachin meant for the multitude of cricket fans in India. The biggest ever sporting icon that India has ever produced, he was also a great ambassador of the game. When he announced his retirement from international cricket, it triggered a widespread gloom and disappointment. But why? Everything, good or bad, has to end one day. It was inevitable and the fans knew it. Then why this reaction?
To understand that, we need to understand why people loved Sachin. We need to understand the phenomenon that he was.
During his illustrious career that spanned 24 years, he played with the burden of expectations of a billion people every time he walked out to bat.
“Outside grounds, people wait until he goes in before paying to enter,” Shane Warne once said. “They seem to want a wicket to fall even though it is their own side that will suffer. This is cricket as Sachin has known it since the age of 16. He grew up under an incredible weight of expectation and never buckled once.”To not budge under that pressure and to perform consistently was no meagre achievement.
Tendulkar appealed to the ordinary Indian because of his understated personality. A developing country with a history of colonial subjugation would look for any chance that could boost its hurting pride and Tendulkar gave it exactly that.
Tendulkar made his debut in an India still poor, marginal, and self-protectionist. He retired in an India enriched by 20 years of rampaging growth, a country whose burgeoning population and thriving economy have made it the superpower of world cricket.
A weak, insecure nation looks up to inspirational leaders for motivation, needs sporting heroes – larger than life players on the cricketing field who can transcend the limitations of their country and team. Tendulkar was the diminutive colossus who showed his countrymen that an Indian too could be the world’s best. No doubt he was elevated to the stature of a God in the country where cricket is not a sport but a religion.
He unified people like nobody else. When he went out to bat, the entire nation cheered for him, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. The skill and versatility of his batsmanship made millions of Indians temporarily forget their everyday insecurities and come together to cheer for their hero.
With his retirement, many people lost interest in the game, especially the people who had grown up watching him play, people who emulated him and wanted to be like him. It was like the end of an era but not the end of the sport. The game is always bigger than an individual.
There have been legends before Sachin and there will be legends after him too. When Gavaskar retired, everyone said there won’t be another Gavaskar again but we got Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, and Sehwag. Sachin was a name bigger than all of them but there is no reason why there cannot be an icon bigger than him in the future.
Stars of today are the legends of tomorrow and we already have stars in Kohli, Rohit, Pujara, Rahane etc. The list is long. There are lots of talented players and one of them may go on to be the next big thing.
Kohli with his talismanic talent, youthful exuberance and fierce competitiveness is the new poster boy of Indian cricket.
So the question that many people ask: “after Tendulkar, who?” is a paradoxical one. It no longer matters as to “who” it is. Tendulkar, the batsman who defined cricket for an entire generation of Indians, has also redefined the terms in which Indian cricket will now be seen. He came at a time when heroic defeats were the norm rather than blazing wins. He instilled the belief that we can win and dominate. Thanks to his extraordinary achievements, he has raised the bar for all who have followed him. He has left but only after making winning, the new normal.
That is the transformation wrought by the Tendulkar era. After him, Indian cricket will never be the same again. It does not need to be the same. Like everything else, it will also keep evolving and hopefully for the better.